Choice needs to go much further than at present

July 18, 2008 10:23 AM

An interesting piece by Samuel Brittan in today's FT looks at the Blairite choice agenda, also promoted by, as he puts it, "the self-styled progressive wing of the Conservative party". It's worth quoting from the article at length:

"Whenever a particular idea appears to have captured the centre ground of politics it is time to look at it with a beady eye. This applies now to what is sometimes called the “choice agenda”. The idea is that core welfare state services, above all health and education, should remain state financed, but that the users should have a greater choice, for instance, among schools and hospitals. At a minimum they should be able to select among state providers; but in the more daring version, private enterprise providers would be able to compete too, as long as the services remained free at the point of entry....


"Although sometimes better than nothing, the type of choice envisaged is extremely limited as long as no top-up payments by patients or parents are allowed. Money should not become a fetish, but is nevertheless an extremely useful human invention and a main instrument by which choice can be exercised....


"The whole discussion reminds me of the £50 travel allowance that Harold Wilson’s Labour government imposed in the 1960s as part of a forlorn attempt to stave off devaluation of sterling. This could be seen as an example of the “choice agenda”. UK residents could travel anywhere they liked, from China to Peru, as long as they did not take more than £50 per head out of the country. True choice would, of course, have involved the freedom to decide how much to spend as well as where to go....


"In fact, the present path is not always better than nothing. Parents who do not like local authority schools are being encouraged to opt for faith schools or for academies supported by wealthy citizens, some of whom have strong religious or other beliefs. Such schools then have a cost advantage they would not have if parents had cash or vouchers that they could spend on a school that they really preferred."

This is an important reminder that half-hearted reforms will not be sufficient to really improve our public services. Only putting real spending power in the hands of ordinary people will achieve that.

An interesting piece by Samuel Brittan in today's FT looks at the Blairite choice agenda, also promoted by, as he puts it, "the self-styled progressive wing of the Conservative party". It's worth quoting from the article at length:

"Whenever a particular idea appears to have captured the centre ground of politics it is time to look at it with a beady eye. This applies now to what is sometimes called the “choice agenda”. The idea is that core welfare state services, above all health and education, should remain state financed, but that the users should have a greater choice, for instance, among schools and hospitals. At a minimum they should be able to select among state providers; but in the more daring version, private enterprise providers would be able to compete too, as long as the services remained free at the point of entry....


"Although sometimes better than nothing, the type of choice envisaged is extremely limited as long as no top-up payments by patients or parents are allowed. Money should not become a fetish, but is nevertheless an extremely useful human invention and a main instrument by which choice can be exercised....


"The whole discussion reminds me of the £50 travel allowance that Harold Wilson’s Labour government imposed in the 1960s as part of a forlorn attempt to stave off devaluation of sterling. This could be seen as an example of the “choice agenda”. UK residents could travel anywhere they liked, from China to Peru, as long as they did not take more than £50 per head out of the country. True choice would, of course, have involved the freedom to decide how much to spend as well as where to go....


"In fact, the present path is not always better than nothing. Parents who do not like local authority schools are being encouraged to opt for faith schools or for academies supported by wealthy citizens, some of whom have strong religious or other beliefs. Such schools then have a cost advantage they would not have if parents had cash or vouchers that they could spend on a school that they really preferred."

This is an important reminder that half-hearted reforms will not be sufficient to really improve our public services. Only putting real spending power in the hands of ordinary people will achieve that.

Latest Blogs:

TaxPayers' Alliance Icon

The sugar tax and the public finances

6:00 AM 05, Dec 2016 Harry Fairhead

TaxPayers' Alliance Icon

Working for the taxman

6:00 AM 26, Nov 2016 Harry Fairhead

TaxPayers' Alliance Icon

Further thoughts on the Autumn Statement

4:56 PM 24, Nov 2016 James Price

TaxPayers' Alliance Icon

Have we had too much austerity?

10:57 AM 23, Nov 2016 Alex Wild